We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.
- J.K. Rowling
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There she stood in the threshold of hope. Just when others had given up on her and labelled her as a failure, she stood with her eyes full of dreams, her heart filled with confidence and mind focused on building a bright future. It was her moment under the sun, not for others to applaud but for herself because it was her threshold of hope.
She had just finished her make-or-break higher secondary examinations without any flying colours. Yes, she was disappointed because she had believed like others that she was capable of doing better. Everyone had repeatedly assured her that studious girls like her always got rewarded for their hard work. No, she did not blame others for pinning hopes on her. After all, she was the typical girl-next-door, serious about studies, quiet, demure and obedient. She had done all that was needed, studied endlessly, woke up at insane hours for revision, stopped watching TV but the results didn’t reflect all that. Years later she was to realize that life never paid dividends for working hard, it paid for working smart.
Now that everyone had written her off, she knew that finally there were no expectations to live up to and no promises to be fulfilled. She was free and in a way unburdened. Life was finally waiting for her and she couldn’t wait to embrace it. But who would have thought, life would open its arms so warmly and soon!
It had been a few days in her new college and luckily she did not feel the burden of making new friends. A couple of her schoolmates had also taken admissions for the same course. Yes, she already felt lucky. Since the day she had joined college, she had this lingering feeling that everything was going to get better in her life. In just a few weeks she started feeling it. After the teachers had ensured that the newcomers were comfortable and were getting the pace right, the seniors started coming in for the ‘introduction sessions’. It was one such session that changed her life forever.
These sessions were nothing but a refined form of ragging as all that the senior students did was some leg-pulling and had their moments with nasty flirting. The second-year seniors had already gone on with their ‘session’ and it had passed off without any fuss. Now everyone was anticipating how the session with the senior-most batch would go as tradition had it that the third-year students would shamelessly bully the newcomers.
The third-year students had entered her class one day, just when she had thought the day was over. Quickly some 50 odd students cramped themselves into a 25-seater room. Some sat, others stood but the air was tight with anticipation. As she quietly sat in a corner trying to make herself small and invisible she observed that she could easily put her seniors into two groups - the loud, boisterous, over-confident lot and the soft just-here-to-be-part-of-the-group ones. She naturally took a liking for the latter. In fact she didn’t like the way a few senior guys were behaving with her friends. It wouldn’t be wrong to say they were flirting as their approach was rustic and undignified.
She was sitting at the far-end of the room, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t need to introduce herself. As her classmates went one after the other, her attention fell on a particularly irritating guy. He was one of the loudest and definitely the rudest of them all. And simply for this reason it was hate at first sight for her!
Soon her turn came. She dreaded at the thought that the nasty boy would ask her some uncomfortable questions. But much to her surprise, her sessions went smoothly. She was asked by another guy, that too politely, to sing. She hoarsely did as she wasn’t even a bathroom singer but somehow pulled a few notes together. Surprisingly the boy had suddenly gone quiet, not interrupting her as he had been doing with others, not asking her stupid questions. He simply stood there, unmoved. Though she was surprised, she was also much relieved.
As the days turned into weeks, she slowly forgot the episode. She was immersing herself into the curriculum. She found the course work entertaining and exciting. As she was focussing on the course, she failed to see her friends diverting their attention elsewhere. In a matter of days they had become best buddies with some of the senior guys. When she finally did notice she ignored their friendship rather choosing to befriend her classmates. But unknown to her something was cooking between them. Her friends hadn’t become friendly with the boys without a reason. She was soon to know and be completely taken aback.
It was true that her friends continuously cajoled her to talk freely to the boys, but she never suspected their intentions. She thought they wanted their introvert friend to talk to new people and open up. So she played along and started indulging them by talking formally to the guys. She was hesitant as talking to strangers didn’t come naturally to her. But she tried. Of all the senior boys, that obnoxious guy from the intro session was most eager to talk to her and much to her surprise, he turned out to be friendly unlike the other day. But instead of liking him, his dual nature repelled her. She looked at him with suspicion but he seemed eager and would go out of his way to talk to her.
Their acquaintance hadn’t yet gone beyond pleasantries when one day her friends pushed her into an empty classroom telling her that the boy wished to talk to her alone. She wasn’t prepared for this and she was angry at the highhandedness of her friends. With no other option left she grumpily entered the room to find him fidgeting in a corner. It wouldn’t need a genius to tell he was nervous. He meekly told her to sit but she refused her anger shimmering. He must have realised this as he blurted out his feelings without wasting time. He told her that he liked her, and did so from the moment he set eyes on her that day. She wasn’t moved as she hadn’t forgotten the introduction episode. To be frank, she was rude and brushed his feelings under the carpet in the most arrogant manner. But somewhere she was fascinated at the sight of the bully trembling and stammering. However, she didn’t bother to look twice towards him before stopping him mid-sentence and walking out of the room. He must have felt dejected but that didn’t stop him from pursuing her later. Of course, he had the support of her friends who enjoyed playing cupid and didn’t leave any stone unturned to bring them closer.
Being punctual by nature always meant that she would reach college early. It was during those early hours that their friendship blossomed. She would invariably find him waiting and slowly she got used to those 10 minutes with him. As time went, she realized that he wasn’t as bad as she had imagined him to be and was rather a jovial guy.
The session was in full swing. He continued to pour his attention on her. Though she would never admit (even to herself) she loved all of it. It was for the first time in her life that a guy was besotted with her. She also enjoyed the fact that she was the first girl in her batch who had got so such attention from a senior. She would fantasise about how beautiful college romance looked, just like she had read in books and watched in movies.
The proposal was quite unromantic, much to her dismay. He suddenly had confessed about his love in between the class breaks. She wasn’t sure what had made her more upset - the fact that someone had proposed her or that he had done it so un-romantically. Weren’t romantic heroes supposed to bend down on their knees and act their part properly? Not knowing how to react, she ignored the proposal, behaving as if nothing had happened.
Still the boy didn’t give up. He continued and nurtured their tender friendship. Without her realizing she soon found in him a good friend. She had started confiding in him things she never told anyone. In fact she hadn’t realised when and how she fell in love with him. But she did.
She first realised her love when he had gone out of town on a course-related project. It was first time since their acquaintance that they couldn’t meet. Texting and talking over the phone were bare minimum. It was during those days that it dawned upon her that she had started missing his company. It was only when she wouldn’t find him in the college corridors waiting for her, had she realised that she looked forward to those moments together. Not talking to him made her realise that she did enjoy his company and found their conversations enjoyable. Missing him, worrying about his well-being, wanting to talk to him, longing to meet him finally made her see love.
She was surprised that love didn’t happen to her as she had seen in movies and read in romantic novels. She didn’t experience her heart beating faster, the winds hadn’t blown past her hair when he passed by and she definitely hadn’t noticed any fire sparks around them! Love for her happened when she least expected it and with someone she never thought she had any similarity with. No, it wasn’t love at first sight but she knew it was unadulterated love. And once love happened, she couldn’t wait for him to be back so that she could pour out all her feelings honestly. She knew he was desperately waiting for her confession and he deserved to know it.
His return a fortnight later made her restless. She had made up her mind about confessing but when the time came, her courage withered. They met every day, right from the day he had returned. But meeting him became a struggle. She would step out of home telling herself that she would bare her soul to him today. But somehow, that didn’t happen. How was it so easy for others, she wondered. A month passed and this struggle continued. She was getting anxious. College was about to close for winters and once it re-opened the final examinations would begin, meaning that college life for him would end.
It was his birthday and she knew it had to be now or never. She felt it would be the best birthday gift she could give him. It was the perfect gift, romantic, priceless and memorable. She could just picture herself confessing it and see that little smile break on his face. Oh! How lovely it would be. But as fate would have it, his birthday came and went and things didn’t go exactly as planned. She was disheartened as she had to go home without telling him.
Being romantic at heart, she wanted it all to be perfect, hardly realising that emotions made moments perfect and not the situation. A day after his birthday, she once again woke up with the resolution to set things right. By now she had started seeing his desperation. She knew that it was his good-nature that stopped him from asking her out again and deep inside she respected his stand.
She walked into the college feeling confident but as soon as she saw him, she chickened out. Her courage left her once again. Forget about confessing, she hardly spoke two words of sense with him and instead ran away to her friend’s place. Sipping tea there, she realised how idiotic her behaviour was and how she was pushing him away by her antics. It was then she texted him to meet her soon. He obediently arrived in no time. It was her moment now.
As they casually strolled under a canopy of winter leaves on that lonely road where hardly a car passed, all that she managed to say was, ‘let’s give it a try’. It has been 12 years and they are still giving it a try with a toddler in tow